Saadi Kadafi, son of slain Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, speaks at a news… (Tim Wimborne / Reuters )
Reporting from Mexico City — Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that they had busted an international smuggling ring that was planning to sneak a son of Moammar Kadafi into Mexico, where he was to be ensconced in a ritzy oceanfront estate.
Saadi Kadafi, the 38-year-old son of the deposed and slain dictator, and three relatives were to travel to Mexico using falsified documents that gave them new names and Mexican citizenship, authorities said. The plot involved a network of safe houses, illicit bank accounts and private jets crisscrossing the globe from the Middle East to Kosovo to Canada, said Alejandro Poire, Mexico's interior minister.
Poire said four people — two Mexicans, a Canadian and a Dane — formed the smuggling ring and were arrested last month.
The announcement followed publication one day earlier in Canada of an article that described the plot and Kadafi's intentions to set himself up in the Punta Mita resort area, a Pacific coast stretch of million-dollar villas, Jack Nicklaus golf courses and frolicking celebrities.
The National Post reported that the head of a Canadian private-security firm, Gary Peters, has served as Kadafi's bodyguard for several years and helped him escape to Niger as his father's regime crumbled. The paper quoted Peters as confirming the property had been acquired but that he believed the documents being obtained and other steps being taken to get Kadafi to Mexico were legitimate.
Contacted by The Times, Peters said via email, "People are getting arrested wrongly."
Saadi Kadafi, who lived a raucous playboy lifestyle and who played European soccer professionally, briefly, until flunking a drug test, is wanted by Interpol, which issued a "red notice" in September urging nations to arrest and possibly extradite him. Libya's transitional government had said it wanted the younger Kadafi for "armed intimidation" and misappropriation of property while he headed the Libyan Football Federation, Interpol said. And the United Nations froze his and his family's assets and slapped a travel ban on Kadafi and other top members of the fallen regime.
Poire did not say which family members were going to accompany Kadafi. The fake names they were going to use — Daniel Bejar Hanan, Amira Sayed Nader, Moah Bejar Sayed and Sofia Bejar Sayed — suggested the relatives were, or would pose as, his wife and two children.
Poire identified the leader of the alleged smuggling ring as Cynthia Ann Vanier, a Canadian national, who Poire said had "direct contact" with the Kadafi family and was in charge of finances. Mexicans Gabriela Davila Huerta, or Davila de Cueto, and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto were tasked to obtain fake papers, while Danish national Pierre Christian Flensborg was in charge of logistics, Poire said.
Mexican intelligence learned of the plot on Sept. 6, about the time Saadi Kadafi was fleeing in a convoy to Niger, government spokeswoman Alejandra Sota said. Vanier was arrested Nov. 10 in Mexico City, and the other three the following day.
"With these actions, the federal government is actively contributing to a safe North America," Sota said.
Under Mexican law, the suspects can be held for up to 80 days without charges. During that period, they will be investigated on suspicion of people-trafficking, organized crime and the use of false documents, authorities said.
Canada's National Post, in its article, described Vanier as a consultant who produced a report blaming the bulk of human rights atrocities on NATO-backed rebel forces that ousted Moammar Kadafi. Her website describes her work as "building bridges from conflict to peace."
The paper also said Peters, the bodyguard, was shot in the shoulder when his convoy was ambushed upon returning to Libya after delivering Saadi Kadafi to Niger. His company, Can/Aust Security & Investigations International, is based in Ontario.
Poire, the interior minister, trumpeted the busting of the alleged smuggling ring as a victory for Mexico's improving institutions and proof of the country's ability to protect its borders. But it is the corruption of the institutions and the porous quality of the borders that may have attracted Saadi Kadafi in the first place. Mexico, as history attests, can be an easy place to hide. Especially if one has the money to hire bodyguards, charter private aircraft and buy off local authorities.
Punta Mita, the resort area in Nayarit state that Kadafi was apparently considering, is particularly tantalizing. Its website shows turquoise waters and five-star hotels and boasts of sightings of Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen.
Asked in a radio interview why he thought Kadafi chose the locale, Nayarit Gov. Roberto Sandoval did not hesitate.
"Because we have the best beaches in the world, the climate is marvelous, we don't have problems like hurricanes," Sandoval said. "Nayarit is a paradise, and that's why it doesn't surprise me that Kadafi was thinking of coming to live here in paradise."